bosnia report
New Series No: 39-40 April - July 2004
Stoking Civil Wars to Mask Aggression
by Branka Magaš

The image suggested by Anđelić of ‘nationalism’ seeping into the Bosnian countryside, which then becomes a base ‘for the nationalists’ rise to power’, is essentially misleading, since nationalist parties did not hold effective power during the period covered in his book. The only true power in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the time was the JNA, which transferred it to the SDS in the course of 1991. Although the Army had by the late eighties became the most potent and destructive nationalist force in the entire area of the former Yugoslavia, Anđelić pays only scant attention to it. The absence of all reference to Kadijević in his book is all the more strange, given that the general supplies in his own work clear and unashamed testimony that it was Bosnia-Herzegovina’s refusal to become part of Greater Serbia that led the JNA to wage war against it, in order to destroy it as a state and society. The plain truth is that Serbia’s designs on Bosnia-Herzegovina included from the start the deliberate stoking of civil war among its population. According to Anđelić: ‘During 1990 the JNA’s acts were not yet openly one-sided. But as Tuđman’s Croatia stood more openly against such an army [i.e. one officered mainly by Serbs], it was not hard for Milošević to use his influence over many of the generals and officers to make the army behave like his marionette (Anđelić, p.201).’ Kadijević’s book shows, however, that the JNA high command sided with Milošević for quite different reasons, which have a great bearing on the internal developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina prior to the war.

Multi-national danger

Kadijević writes that Yugoslavia’s essential weakness had always been its multi-national character, which is why it had to be replaced by another: a nationally homogeneous Serb Yugoslavia, a Serb state for all Serbs - a Greater Serbia. But this project evidently entailed separating Serbs from non-Serbs, and such segregation demanded the use of an overwhelming military force against all opponents of the plan (mainly the civilian population), as well as the invention of a suitable justification for its exercise. The force was supplied by the JNA, while the justification was found by presenting the aggression as a civil war, i.e. a war of Serb self-defence, to ‘save’ the ‘endangered’ Serb people. Kadijević describes at some length how the Serbian leadership and the Army sought to portray the plan for Serbia’s territorial aggrandisement as defence of an allegedly endangered Serb people, in order on the one hand to prevent a military intervention from the West, on the other to rally the Yugoslav Serbs to their cause. The lie that Serbs were under mortal threat could work only by making it as much as possible a reality: i.e. by fanning civil war.

According to Kadijević, Yugoslavia was set on the road to destruction in 1962, when Tito endorsed the Slovenian political leader Edvard Kardelj’s ‘concept of Yugoslavia’ (Kadijević, p.64). This ultimately led to the 1974 Constitution, which ‘legally permitted and prepared Yugoslavia’s breakup’ (ibid., p. 65). The Army was against the Constitution in regard to both its civilian and its military aspects, because they weakened Serbia and the Army - the two pillars of Yugoslavia (ibid., p.62-3) . ‘The constitutional position of the autonomous provinces [Kosovo and Vojvodina] was devised with the aim of destroying Serbia [and] with it, of course, Yugoslavia’ (ibid., p.67). The creation of the republican and provincial Territorial Defence Forces (TDF) under civilian control was an attack on the JNA and hence also on Yugoslavia (ibid., p.73). The right of the republics and provinces to control the Army’s budget, defended by Slovenia and Croatia in particular, was an attack on the JNA and hence on Yugoslavia ( ibid., p.75). The Constitution prevented the JNA from defending the ‘constitutional order’ and forced the Army to ‘act unconstitutionally’ (ibid., p.84). Kadijević’s stance is typically schizophrenic, in that he presents the JNA as both the guardian of the Yugoslav constitutional order and its staunchest opponent. The fact that all Yugoslav post-1945 constitutions defined Bosnia-Herzegovina as a unitary republic does not prevent him from asserting that it was Alija Izetbegović’s ‘policy of an independent and unitary state of Bosnia-Herzegovina which led to the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina’ (ibid., p.26).

JNA and Milošević

From the Army’s point of view things changed for the better with the arrival of Milošević to power in Serbia in 1987, because Serbia too now began to challenge the constitutional order. This (not Tuđman’s Croatia) made Milošević and the JNA natural allies. The Army chiefs now insisted that the Constitution be revised, but they were rebuffed at the Federal level (ibid., p.66). The Communist presidents of Slovenia and Croatia remained ‘bent on destroying Yugoslavia’, as proved by their Critical Analysis of the Functioning of Socialist Self-Management’, produced in 1988 (ibid., p.54). In the same year the JNA’s territorial configuration was reorganised in a manner that ‘disregarded the administrative borders of the republics (ibid., p.77)’ - a decision adopted over Slovenia’s protests (ibid., p.78). Kosovo’s TDF was dismantled, ‘because it was composed mainly of separatist forces’ (ibid.). The chiefs of staff also (secretly) decided to ‘remove all weapons from the territorial defence, and place them under JNA control’ (ibid.). None of these steps was in conformity with the Yugoslav constitution. All were taken in preparation for imposing a new constitutional arrangement, if necessary by force.

According to Kadijević, the JNA’s main domestic enemy had always been ‘the secessionist nationalisms, which under the cover of self-managing socialism had created the political, legal, state, economic and other conditions for the advance of an aggressive and open right-wing nationalism, which took over from the former and completed their work’ (ibid., p.85). One of these was ‘Muslim separatism’ (ibid.). Yugoslavia’s domestic enemies were the Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegović and the Macedonian leader Kiro Gligorov, who - acting in cahoots with its foreign enemies in the West - tried to divide its two main pillars, the Serb people and the JNA, by depicting Slobodan Milošević as the main threat to Yugoslavia (ibid., p.88).

Kadijević writes that the Army decided to intervene in Slovenia and Croatia even before it became clear that ‘right wing nationalist and separatist forces’ would win the elections. The decision by the two republics to proceed to multi-party elections meant ‘a definite end of Yugoslavia in its present borders’ (ibid,, p.92, my italics). The Army threatened the Croatian Communist government a month before the elections took place with dire consequences if they proceeded with democratic elections (ibid.). While denouncing Slovenia and Croatia for their separatism, Kadijević nevertheless warmly approves Serbia’s own: Serbia’s new constitution (see article by Srđa Popović on p.1 above!) was good for Serbia and Yugoslavia (ibid., p.104). In Kadijević’s view, Milošević’s great talent lay in his ‘ability to find simple solutions to the complicated problems that the complicated Yugoslav system constantly generated’ (ibid., p.106). Kadijević had tried hard to make Milošević Yugoslavia’s prime minister, since he alone could have neutralised Ante Marković’s ‘destructive policies’ (ibid., pp.107-8)

After the elections in Slovenia and Croatia (April 1990), the Army concentrated on preventing Serbia from being reduced to the territory of the Ottoman-Period Belgrade pashalik; defending the Serb people in Croatia and ‘its national interest’; assuming ‘full control of Bosnia-Herzegovina with the final aim of protecting the Serb people and its national rights, when this question comes to be posed’; and creating and defending a ‘new Yugoslav state’ (ibid., p.93, my italics). In order to prevent a foreign intervention targeting Serbia, it was also decided to present the war as one of self-defence (ibid., pp.93-4). In April 1990 the JNA disarmed (or sought to disarm) the TDF in those parts of Yugoslavia ‘where it might be used by the secessionist republics or forces to create their own armies’; but ‘quite naturally we used the TDF in the Serb parts of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the JNA operations’ (ibid., p.94). Bosnia-Herzegovina now divided into two parts: one that was armed and another that was disarmed. This happened before the Bosnian elections (November 1990). .

Serbs and the JNA

We now come to the part of Kadijević’s book which addresses the fact that the JNA chose to fight its wars as civil wars. He notes that ‘the multinational composition of the JNA inevitably forced the soldiers to fight also against members of their own nation’, while ‘the targeted areas included also their families’ (ibid., p.95). This problem was partly solved by the JNA becoming a Serb-only army: ‘This is why the JNA divided on a national basis’ (ibid.). Once the non-Serbs had left, the remaining Serbs would fight only non-Serbs. The solution of the other part of the problem, as we know, would involve separating Serb from non Serb population through the policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, after which the non-Serb areas could be attacked with impunity. The reduction of the JNA to its Serb component - through desertion or the removal of non-Serbs - meant, however, that the size of the JNA declined as the need for soldiers increased. This heightened the need to recruit more soldiers from among the Serb population (ibid., p.97).

In March 1991 Kadijević proposed the introduction of a state of emergency, which the federal presidency rejected (the Bosnian vote tipping the balance). He decided, however, not to resign but to rely on ‘those political forces in the federation and the republics representing the peoples who wished to live in Yugoslavia’. This, ‘translated into practical language’, meant ‘defence of the Serb people outside Serbia and concentration of the JNA within the borders of the future Yugoslavia’ (ibid., p.114). At this point Kadijević writes that the JNA would never have been able to impose itself on all of Yugoslavia. It was impossible to carry out a ‘classical coup’, moreover, due to international circumstances. That would have been seen as aggression, whereas the formation of an all-Serb state could be presented as a defensive concept (ibid., p.115). The JNA’s failure to impose a state of emergency led directly to the outbreak of war (Anđelić, surprisingly, ends his coverage of Bosnian events before this important date).

Kadijević twice proposed the creation of a new Serb Yugoslav state, which would be able to support the JNA properly by supplying it with the requisite number of soldiers; but this was not accepted by Milošević (ibid., pp.131-2). During the war in Croatia (March 1991 - January 1992) , Bosnia-Herzegovina was used as a base for the aggression (ibid., p.135). Given that the Army was not permitted to mobilise in Serbia, it proceeded to mobilise in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, which made it possible to ‘liberate’ one third of Croatia (ibid., pp.139-40). Bosnians were thus pressed into the war for a Greater Serbia well before it arrived in their own homeland. The attack on Croatia secured ‘the right of the Serb and Montenegrin peoples to a common state’ (ibid., p.144). After the end of that war, the JNA withdrew in a way that ‘corresponded to its future tasks’, including defence of the borders of the RSK - i.e. to Bosnia-Herzegovina where three months later it would launch a new war (ibid., p.143).

B-H and Greater Serbia

In contrast to Anđelić, who slides over the SDA’s support for Bosnia’s sovereignty (Anđelić, p. 206), Kadijević saw it as sufficient reason for seeking Bosnia-Herzegovina’s destruction. According to him, the ‘enemies of Yugoslavia’ wished to see ‘ the Serb people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which by its geographical location and numerical size represents a foundation stone of the future common state of all Serbs, tied firmly to another state [sic!]’. In other words, they sought to sabotage the ‘natural national endeavour to create a strong state that would be either a new Yugoslavia or at least a state of all of the Serb people’(Kadijević, pp. 144-5). It was, indeed, the international community’s refusal to acknowledge the Serb people’s right to self-determination, argues Kadijević, that led to the bloody civil war in Yugoslavia (ibid., p.145). Kadijević told Izetbegović that unless Bosnia-Herzegovina joined Serbia (which Kadijević calls Yugoslavia) it would disappear, but to no avail. Germany, for its own nefarious reasons, was pushing Izetbegović into a ‘war against the Serbs’ (ibid.). His foreign ‘masters’, who wished to finish off Yugoslavia, knew that Bosnia-Herzegovina’s adhesion to Serbia would have greatly strengthened the future Yugoslav state (ibid., p.147). Failure to persuade ‘the Muslim part of the Bosnia-Herzegovina leadership’ led the JNA ‘ to concrete cooperation with the representatives of the Serb people and the Serb people as a whole’ (ibid.), which enabled it to ‘conduct manoeuvres and movement of JNA forces across Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war in Croatia, which was of vital importance for the JNA’; and to achieve a ‘highly successful mobilisation in the Serb parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In this way we were able at least partly to ease the JNA’s problems caused by unsuccessful mobilisation in other parts of the country (ibid.)’. ‘Our estimate of further developments’, writes Kadijević modestly, ‘led us to believe that after leaving Croatia we needed to have strong JNA forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This would provide the answer to all possible political options regarding developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina, quite apart from our need to maintain a strong and ready force close to the RSK in order to ensure that Croatia would respect the Vance Plan’ (ibid.). The JNA in its Bosnian form ‘protected the Serb people and created the military conditions for the kind of political solutions adequate to its national interests and aims’ (ibid., p.148). As Kadijević writes proudly in the conclusion to his book, the JNA ended by creating three fully equipped armies: the army of FRY, the army of ‘Republika Srpska’ in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the army of ‘Republika Srpska Krajina ‘ in Croatia.

Izetbegović’s opting for Bosnia-Herzegovina’ s independence from Serbia was a hard choice, since it meant inviting JNA retribution against the Muslim/Bosniak population. He was supported in this by many prominent Bosnian political, civic and religious leaders. Anđelić makes no mention of the referendum for independence which preceded war, though it brought Bosnia-Herzegovina international recognition. Unlike Yugoslavia, the country did not disappear after all.


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